More media advocacy for Ocasio-Cortez, and the Progressive view on freedom and free speech

by Robert Harris

In the Yahoo Sports article ‘Fresno Grizzlies lose more sponsors in aftermath of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez video’ by Cassandra Negley, May 31, 2019, it is claimed that a video produced by a minor-league Californian baseball team has caused death threats to be issued against controversial US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (Democratic Party):

Businesses continue to drop their sponsorship deals with the Fresno Grizzlies this week in the wake of a misleading video suggesting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was an “enemy of freedom” to America.

The Triple-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals aired the video between games of a Memorial Day doubleheader in an effort to honor fallen soldiers for their sacrifice and courage. They apologized for Ocasio-Cortez’ inclusion, which resulted in more death threats for the Democratic New York representative, and spent the week watching sponsors pull away. 

However, sole clarification on what is obviously the most serious claim found within the article is found in the only other relevant passage:

The video featured a speech by former President Ronald Reagan. As he mentions “enemies of freedom,” a photo of Ocasio-Cortez was included with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Ocasio-Cortez responded by explaining how videos such as that lead to death threats to her and her office.

The embolded text in both quotations carries the reader to the same article by another Yahoo Sports journalist, Jack Baer, entitled ‘Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responds to Fresno Grizzlies video, laments her “flood of death threats“‘,  May 29, 2019. However, Baer’s article does not contain any claims that the Fresno Grizzlies video directly caused any death threats. Rather, it echoes Ocasio-Cortez’s claims that such videos cause death threats, which conforms with the second quoted paragraph in Cassandra Negley’s article, which may indicate an intention to sensationalise in the article’s opening paragraphs.

The bias in Negley’s article extends to inserting opinion within a news story, where a description of the video is claimed to be ‘misleading’, an assertion made without further clarification. Whilst the use of Ocasio-Cortez’s image is indeed contentious, it would appear that two inferences can be observed from the video’s juxtaposition between that of two socialist dictators, Kim Jong Un and Fidel Castro, during a Ronald Reagan speech in which he mentions “enemies of freedom”: (a) Ocasio-Cortez is deemed to be comparable in terms of her ambition to bring about conditions that would be at least somewhat akin to that of a undemocratic Socialist nation, and/or (b) that Ocasio-Cortez supports such leaders.

Perhaps the most notable association between Ocasio-Cortez’s conduct, and the inferences within the video, would be her continued silence and failure to condemn the oppressive conduct of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro in recent months, choosing instead to criticise US recognition of a democratic interim leader. Although Ocasio-Cortez has since voiced support for brands of European moderate-left democracy, rather than overt socialism, she ran as a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which supports such stances. The DSA has loudly condemned the interventions opposed to Maduro’s refusal to conduct a free general election, as elucidated in the Venezuelan constitution.

However, both articles fail to note that the video also flashed images of Antifa, a group that engages in violent protest, in support of various left-wing causes as well as sustained attacks on supporters of US President Donald Trump. Indeed, Ocasio-Cortez herself attacked the principle of free speech when responding to the video, and other material, including criticism of content featured on Fox News, in tweets on May 28th, 2019:

I don’t even get to see all of them. Just the ones that have been flagged as particularly troubling.

It happens whenever Fox gets particularly aggressive + hateful, too. Young interns have to constantly hear hateful messages (far beyond disagreement) from ppl we don’t even rep.


All of this is to say that words matter, and can have consequences for safety.

For those who believe in “free speech”: whose free speech do you believe in?

Bc some folks using free speech to defend racism are also supporting folks passing laws to allow running over protesters.

This is an advocacy for a restriction of free-speech, quite beyond the established legal limitations, namely threats of violence, imminent advocacy of lawless action and speech that has an overt intent to cause a violent personal attack (fighting words). Ocasio-Cortez makes an advocacy for restricting speech, which would extend to media institutions that feature critical coverage of Ocasio-Cortez’s conduct, and presumably that of her political allies. By contrast, Ocasio-Cortez has supported speech of a similar nature against political opponents, which evoked violent imagery. Such one-sided restrictions are starkly redolent of the outlook of political dictatorships.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental right, whether offensive or benign, in the US Constitution. However, Ocasio-Cortez appears to see little substantive difference between the argument that the US should continue with its foundational (classical-liberal) principle that all speech should be protected, which must necessarily include opinions deemed to be objectionable, and those that seek to exploit this very principle and to make the murder of political opponents somehow legal.

Such a stance goes to the heart of America’s resurgent progressive politics, which has been deeply influenced by the Marxist discipline of Critical Theory. Many of the luminaries of Critical Theory not only undervalued free speech (and free political assembly), they saw such entitlements as a destructive force that ought to be repressed. Herbert Marcuse, one of the 20th Century’s most influential Critical Theorists, advocated for such an approach, claiming that Humanity cannot be free under capitalism:

…the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc. Moreover, the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior – thereby precluding a priori a rational evaluation of the alternatives.

Hence, in a note of contradiction, Ocasio-Cortez tweets to rhetorically ask the advocates of free speech “whose free speech do you believe in?”, as if it really ought to make a difference, when, of course, the central point of free speech advocacy is that beliefs should never be an arbiter for affording that entitlement. 

It must surely come as no surprise that many are questioning the intent of the newer progressive wing of the Democratic Party, of which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has rapidly become something of a figurehead.


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